Obituary

Ralph B. Dell, scientist, lifelong outdoorsman and craftsman

Ralph Bishop Dell, 84, a research scientist, physician and biomathematical modeling expert, a lifelong outdoorsman and craftsman, and devoted husband, father, and grandfather, died in the loving embrace and presence of his wife, children and grandchildren at his home on February 11, 2020, from progressive dementia.  He lived in the 1826 farmhouse in Whitingham VT owned by the family for 50 years and lovingly restored by Ralph and friends, enhanced with their hand-crafted Shaker-style cabinetry, post and beam goat barn and Mongolian “ger.”  Ralph was nicknamed, “Alaska Mountain Man” by friends reflecting his strength of character, love of hiking, wisdom about the natural world and extensive travels around the world, often in relation to humanitarian assistance volunteer activities with his wife, Karen Hein MD.

Dr. Dell was born in Mt. Village Alaska and raised in small fishing villages along The Kuskokwim River, Juneau, Anchorage and Skagway.  As a teenager, he read the classic book Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif, and decided to become a research scientist and physician. He graduated from Pomona College in 1957 and from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1961, paying his way through college and medical school by repairing tube radios and TVs.

Dr. Dell became a full professor at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center/Columbia University Physicians and Surgeons, one of the youngest people ever to be so appointed.   He spent 37 years at Columbia before retiring full time to Vermont in 2000. Dr. Dell performed biomathematical modeling for various research studies, publishing dozens of academic papers. With Robert Winters, MD, Ralph co-authored the medical bestseller Acid Base Physiology in Medicine.  He was a patent holder with Columbia on a chemical formula to promote growth in infants born prematurely, given to grandson, Milo when he was in the PICU after being born prematurely.  Dr. Dell was a champion of the appropriate use and treatment of animals in research, and a frequent speaker and public resource on the topic. At the National Academy of Sciences, where Ralph served from 1995 to 2000, he headed the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR).

Dr. Dell was diagnosed with progressive dementia (probable Lewy body dementia) in 2011, A short video documentary, “Ralph and the Gift of Alzheimer’s Disease,” shown to the public at the Riverstone Adult Day Program Gala in 2016, captured his and his wife’s desire to learn from the experience of dementia. https://vimeo.com/162835203)

In addition to his wife, Dr. Dell is survived by his four children and their partners, Laura Dell (Hugh Carter), Kenneth Dell (Nadia Barker-Dell), Ethan Hein (Anna Pomykala), and Molly Hein (Dan Griffin); five grandchildren, Olivia, Zoe, Milo, Bernadetta and Ramona; and two sisters, Dorothy Hopkins and Mary Louis.

Gatherings to honor Dr. Dell’s life will be held in New York City and in Vermont in the coming months. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to The Gathering Place (https://gatheringplacevt.org/get-involved/donate),an adult day program in Vermont that Ralph attended for five years, or to the Alaska Conservation Foundation (https://alaskaconservation.org/take-action/donate/ways-to-give/donate-gift/)


Family Information

Ralph was nicknamed, “Alaska Mountain Man” by friends reflecting his strength of character, love of hiking, wisdom about the natural world and extensive travels around the world, often in relation to humanitarian assistance volunteer activities with his wife, Karen Hein MD.

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